By BEN JOHNSON
There’s a photo that adorns Larry Gipson’s refrigerator. It’s of a senior basketball player at Heidelberg University.
By Gipson’s own admission, the player in the picture was never really a star athlete on the hardwood.
“He wasn’t a very good player,” Gipson said. “He was probably a pain in the neck to his coaches. But he might be my favorite player.”
The imposing figure in the triple-threat position is none other than Gipson himself. And while he never made his mark as a player in basketball, he left quite an imprint in the coaching realm of college hoops.
“Every day, I think I’ve gotta live up to the expectations of that kid,” Gipson said Monday during a press conference to announce his retirement, which will take place at the end of the current basketball season.
“I wonder what he would think about. I wonder what his thoughts were at the time, and I wonder if he could anticipate some of the things that happened to him.”
There’s a good chance the kid from Ohio in that photograph never envisioned what kind of coaching career was in store years down the road.
At the end of NSU’s current 12-10 season, the final chapter will be written in Gipson’s storied coaching career. It began in 1982 with coaching jobs at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, Toledo and Northeastern State University. It includes 561 career coaching victories, 332 at the NCAA level; five NCAA tournament berths; and two national championships — one at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M in 1989 and one at Northeastern State in 2003.
In fact, Gipson’s two national titles land him in select company in the state of Oklahoma. Gipson and Henry Iba — a Hall of Fame coach at Oklahoma State — are the only two coaches in the state to win multiple national championships.
“...My name in the same sentence as Henry Iba; I think when you think about that 21-year old kid — who wasn’t aware of who Henry Iba was — if you were to say that to that 21-year old kid, he would have said, ‘I’ll take that career,’” Gipson, 62, said. “I think he was the greatest of all coaches in that he transformed the game... he was the one who identified a clear philosophy to give his team a chance to win.”
Regardless of how NSU caps its 2013-2014 season, Gipson will still be roughly 30 games shy of becoming NSU’s all-time winningest men’s basketball coach. Currently, he has 276 wins at NSU – 38 shy of Jack Dobbins’ mark of 314.
But unseating Dobbins as the benchmark for coaching victories at NSU never crossed Gipson’s mind before he decided to retire.
“I never worry about that,” said Gipson, who moved past Ken Hayes to become NSU’s second-winningest coach in men’s basketball history. “In terms of chasing somebody’s record, I never felt that was that important.”
Gipson’s retirement will also bring an end to the all-Gipson era at Northeastern State. Since Randy Gipson — the women’s basketball coach at NSU — joined the university 15 years ago, it’s been nothing but the brother duo on NSU’s bench.
It’s something both Randy and Larry said they’ll miss.
“Randy was five years younger than me, so he was the guy who always tagged along. And it was like if Randy screwed up, I’d put the knot on his head or get upset. But nobody else would pick on Randy,” Larry Gipson said. “He’s always been the only one I would listen to when they told me I was screwing up. My first reaction when somebody criticizes me — and I think this is why I was a pain in the ass to coaches — was to get upset. But not with Randy. He’s been there through thick and thin, and I think it’s benefited both of us and we can bounce ideas off of each other. And I think it’s going to be an adjustment for both of us.”
Randy Gipson — who sat in the front row of the press conference while Larry announced his retirement — echoed Larry’s sentiments.
“He’s had such a tremendously positive influence on me, and having any of the accomplishments that I’ve been fortunate to be a part of, is directly related to his influence,” Randy Gipson said. “It’s been a dream ride for us to have worked together at the same time at the same school two different times. We’ve just enjoyed that so much.
“It’s going to be a big life change for me, as well. I’m going to have to get accustomed to a new routine.”
And so will the rest of NSU after Larry Gipson’s 17-year run.